Friday, June 12, 2009

Classic American Cities - Seattle

Downtown Seattle from Gasworks Park (Mine,public domain). Above: Pioneer Square, 1917, C.F. Todd

I grew up just across Lake Washington from the mighty metropolis of Puget Sound. This city, renowned for it's coffee, it's hippies, and it's software and businesspeople, has a complex personality at once laid back and pretentious, hot-headed and calm, Western and modern, rebellious and traditional, and both outspoken and quiet.

Courtesy of National Parks Service. Public domain.

The downtown area of Seattle was originally a tideflat with islands. In the center of the above picture is a triangle of three streets, known as the Denny Triangle. That triangle was an island that the first part of downtown Seattle was built off of. Today, you have to walk several blocks to the water and the docks. Garbage and landfills were used to fill the tideflats, depositing additional land off of the triangle for more city to be built. In addition, Seattle, in 1907, destroyed a hill and deposited the dirt that was contained in it across the lowpoints. Denny Regrade:

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikimedia
The hotel in the background still stands, known as the Josephinum, at 1902 Second Avenue. To this day, the attitude of being able to shift mountains and proudly, perhaps even foolishly, see no obstacle is a major part of Seattle's character.

The University of Washington has been a part of Seattle since 1861. It's original campus was on University Street in Downtown, although it is now located near the Montlake Cut about 5 miles Northeast. The University, according to William Spiedel in his book "Sons of the Profits," was fonded off of leasing a land-grant contianing nearly the entirety of the Lake Washington shoreline. The land was leased out for building of industrial facilities too large for a homestead, and lead to the development of Seattle's Eastside off of industry (of which almost none remains today, except at the North and South ends, Kenmore and Renton.)
Ballard is a Scandinavian ethnic neighborhood to the Northwest of downtown.

Ballard from the air, Walter Siegmund. Gnu License 1.2

To this day, the Ballard high school mascot is the Vikings, and many Ballardians are commercial fishermen. The area has a very different social ambience to it, a feeling more down to earth then the rest of Seattle, very welcoming, and very humble. The scandinavian immigrants are part of why Western Washington is different from any other Western State, and you will find them throughout the state, but make sure, when you are in Seattle, to take a trip to Ballard, the epicenter of it. And don't be surprised when you hear hymns in Norwegian at church.

One of the many fine Scandinavian traditions carried over to Seattle is celebrating Midsummers Day, also known as the summer solstice. In Fremont, a traditionally hippyish neighborhood near Ballard, they have a nude bicycle race every summer solstice.

Seattle does have a tradition of Seattle Nice, and Washington State being partially Scandinavian and partially Scots-Irish, it can be considered roughly a mix of Minnesota and Colorado. The very happy side to their nature is they do tend to be welcoming and open. The dark side to their character is they have a tendency to expect people to be perfect and emotionless. And their "nice" does not cover you when you say extremely stupid things, or what they pereceive as such - nor does it prevent them from trash talking. They do have a sense of honor, however - witness people working in Seattle and you will see some of the most dilligent and motivated workers you have ever seen. And despite their tendency to trash talk, both aggresively and passive aggresively, they And they can be very free-spirited and entrepreneurial, though some of that is now disappearing.

Seattle is, unfortunately, effeminizing right now as every shop and business has decided that if they paint the walls pastel, create a painting of a wineglass somewhere and sell tacky merchandise they will make more money. Add to this some recklessly bad transportation policy (like charging $6 to get in to the city from the Eastern Suburbs, and wasting billions on a rail system expected to carry 20,000 passengers) and it comes down to this: If you want to Seattle, hurry, it may not be there tomorrow.

They will learn eventually, though. :(

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